With zesty, bold spices and a dark, seared crust, Blackened Chicken is a flavorful protein to serve on its own or over salad, pasta, or rice. This recipe includes instructions for the stovetop, grill, or air fryer.
Blackened chicken is an incredibly flavorful, versatile chicken recipe that gives the chicken a dark crust while it stays tender and juicy. As far as easy recipes for summer go, this is one of the best! And it’s so easy too. Simply combine the chicken with a mix of oil and spices, cook it on the grill, in the air fryer, or in a cast iron skillet and dinner is done.
Making a big batch of this chicken is one of my favorite ways to meal prep. Make a big batch and then it's easy to store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it for all week. The chicken is delicious added to salads (I love it in BBQ Chicken Salad), quesadillas, pasta, tacos, or served over polenta like Cajun Fish.
If you haven’t tried making this versatile dish at home, now is the time! And if you’re looking for more ideas, check out all of my Chicken Recipes.
What is “blackened” chicken?
What makes chicken “blackened” is the combination of two things - 1) coating the chicken with a spice rub of dried herbs and spices (called blackening, blackened, or Cajun seasoning) and 2) cooking the chicken over high heat until a nearly black crust forms on the outside. Blackened chicken is not burned, but heat darkens the seasoning blend as it cooks. Blackened chicken is most often found in Cajun cuisine and it is a great addition to your favorite Cajun recipes.
What flavors are in blackening seasoning?
Paprika, onion powder, dried thyme, garlic powder, and salt and black pepper. It also includes cayenne pepper to make it spicy. These blackening spices can always be adjusted, especially the cayenne pepper, which can be reduced to make it less spicy.
- Chicken - For best results, use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs. If the chicken breasts are large (so many are these days!), slice each breast lengthwise to thin. This helps them to cook more quickly but also gives you more surface area for seasoning, which means more flavor!
- Cooking Oil - Use any high heat cooking oil like canola, vegetable, grapeseed, or avocado oil.
- Lemon Juice - Citrus juice tenderizes the meat and adds tart flavor.
- Blackening / Cajun Seasoning - Get the full recipe here or in the recipe card below. It is a mix of paprika, salt, dried thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sugar, and cayenne powder. You can make a big batch of this seasoning and store it in a small bowl or jar at room temperature.
How to make Blackened Chicken
- Step 1: Combine blackening seasoning with a cooking fat (like oil or melted butter)
- Step 2: Coat chicken on all sides in the seasoning-fat mixture. You can cook it right away or marinate it in the refrigerator for up to a day.
- Step 3: Brush a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron is great) or grill with cooking oil or melted butter. You can also cook this in the air fryer (see below).
- Step 4: Sear chicken until a dark crust appears on both sides and cooked through (165 degrees F). (Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.)
How to Air Fry Blackened Chicken
The air fryer is a great way to cook blackened chicken.
- Preheat an air fryer to 375°F.
- Coat chicken in oil and then in Cajun or blackening seasoning.
- Spray the grates of the air fryer basket with some nonstick cooking spray or brush it with oil.
- Add chicken to the air fryer and cook without turning for 7 to 10 minutes (until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F).
Mayonnaise for seasoning chicken
A classic way to make blackened chicken is to mix a cooking fat like oil or melted butter with spices before cooking. But another cooking fat that works well might come as a bit of a surprise. Mayonnaise! It may sound strange, but using mayonnaise to coat your chicken in spices works like magic. The finished dish does not taste like mayonnaise, but it cooks into the chicken, infusing the chicken with the spices and acting as a tenderizer to keep the chicken juicy and delicious. The mayo also clings to the chicken, keeping the spices in place as they cook.
Tips for Great Blackened Chicken
- Use boneless, skinless chicken. You’ll get the best results with boneless, skinless chicken because it will give you the most surface area for searing and will cook the most evenly. Either chicken breasts or thighs work great.
- Pat chicken dry. Pat the chicken dry to remove any moisture on the surface. This will help the coating to stick.
- Marinate or not! There’s no need to marinate blackened chicken. You can cook it right away. But feel free to mix it with the oil and spices and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours. It will develop more flavor as it sits.
- Adjust heat. You should cook the chicken at a high enough temperature to give it a blackened crust, but you don’t want it to burn before it cooks through. Start at medium heat and increase to medium-high if needed.
- Rest the chicken. As with all chicken recipes, be sure to rest the chicken after cooking. This will give the juices a chance to distribute throughout the meat and will keep it tender and moist. Letting it rest for 5 minutes, covered, on a cutting board will do the trick.
What to Serve with Blackened Chicken
Serve blackened chicken on its own or over rice, pasta, polenta, or mashed potatoes. On the side, it’s great to serve grilled vegetables, green salads, pasta salad, potato salad, or fresh fruit like pineapple or watermelon.
Here are a few of my favorite sides for blackened chicken:
- Coconut Rice
- Corn, Tomato, and Avocado Salad
- Pesto Pasta Salad
- Lemony Potato Salad
- Bacon, Corn, and Avocado Salad
- Baked Green Rice
No. The spices contain so much flavor that you can coat the chicken and cook it right away. If you’d like to marinate the meat, it will absorb a bit more flavor. Marinate for anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours.
Yes. You can place the chicken on a baking sheet and bake at 425°F for 18 to 24 minutes. You won’t get the same blackened outer crust that results from searing or grilling the chicken because the chicken won't come in direct contact with the high heat.
Yes. You can reduce the amount of cayenne pepper, or skip it completely, to make the chicken less spicy.
Yes. Just be aware that you might not get quite as dark of a “blackened”, caramelized crust as you would get if using the sugar.
Yes. White or black pepper will work in blackened chicken. The dark crust on the chicken comes from heating all of the spices, not from the color of the pepper.
More Grill-Friendly Recipes
- Thai-Style Grilled Chicken (Gai Yang)
- Sweet and Spicy Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa
- Grilled Summer Vegetable and Pesto Pizza
- Arugula, Steak, and Crispy Potato Salad
- Easy Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce
- Lodge Cast Iron Skillet - I use this 10.5-inch cast iron skillet nearly every day. To keep it seasoned, just be sure to dry it well and rub it with some oil before storing it (this will prevent rust and keep it seasoned).
- Global Chef’s Knife - You only really need one chef's knife to use for everything and this is my favorite. I've had it for 7+ years. It's incredibly lightweight. If you, like me, are under 5'4", the 6-inch is a perfect size (if you're taller, get the 8-inch).
- Glass Mixing Bowls
- Cuisinart Food Processor
Blackened Chicken Recipe (Stovetop, Grill, or Air Fryer)
- Mixing Bowls
- ¼ cup Olive Oil or other Cooking Oil (see note)
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons Paprika
- ¾ teaspoon Kosher Salt
- ½ teaspoon Dried Thyme
- ½ teaspoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper (preferably fresh-cracked)
- ¼ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ¼ teaspoon Sugar (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
- 1 ½ pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts or Chicken Thighs (if using thick chicken breasts, slice them lengthwise to thin)
- In a large bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, paprika, salt, dried thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sugar, and cayenne pepper.
- Pat chicken dry with paper towels to remove any surface moisture (this will help the spice mixture to stick).
- Add chicken to spices, pressing the chicken into the mixture to coat well. (You can cook it right away or refrigerate for up to a day to build flavor.)
- Heat large skillet or grill pan to medium heat. If you prefer, you can heat up an outdoor grill or heat an air fryer to 375 degrees F. Brush pan, grill, or grates of an air fryer basket with some cooking oil to help prevent sticking. Add chicken to hot pan and cook on both sides until a dark crust appears on both sides and cooked through (165°F). (In the air fryer, cook without turning for 7 to 10 minutes.)
- Transfer cooked chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes.
- Slice chicken and serve.